As they left the city limits and hit the highway, the snowflakes grew heavier and thicker and the wind buffeted the side of the car. Usually, she enjoyed the drive, but as the minutes passed, her restlessness increased. “We’re driving so slow.”
“Everyone is. We’ve likely got three inches already.”
Something was wrong. The wrong thing seemed more than the storm, the noisy wipers, or the slow going. She wanted to tell Papa about the unquiet thing, but she didn’t know what it was, and telling him stuff he didn’t know, and didn’t think she should know, worried him. He wanted her to be like other children: not getting in trouble at school, not drawing odd pictures, and never saying things that made people’s eyebrows go up. Or down.
Julian fiddled with the radio, trying to find a station without static and with an updated weather report. “Twelve inches,” he repeated the announcer. “We won’t be dug out until spring.”
She heard someone call her name. She sat up straighter, looking to Julian, but he only clutched the steering wheel, which meant he hadn’t heard. If she told him, his brows would go up, then down.
“A couple of Ginn stations were robbed last weekend,” he said. “Two more robberies this week.”
She rarely went into his thoughts now. To hear them, she had to leave her own and go into his, which were boring and usually about things like Ginn stations. She was in fourth grade with Sister Beatrice, and she had a friend. They called themselves “The Two-Girls Club,” and they had a rule: To be a member you had to hate Derrick Crat and Mary Wolfe.
“Thirty inches last month,” Julian said. “A new record. You suppose this month’ll be worse?”
He didn’t usually talk so much, which meant he did feel the thing without a name. She tried to distract herself. She’d think about pretty things like the blue coat over her pictures with its rabbit-fur collar, dyed-to-match blue mittens, and the dresses Mémé bought her, dresses as pretty as Mary Wolfe’s.
Julian kept his hands on the steering wheel until they’d started up the drive of Farthest House. He reached across the seat and brushed back a lock of Willow’s hair from the side of her face. “Tell Ma, I’ll see her on Sunday. If I waste time on coffee, I won’t make it back.” The car wheels began to spin, and the car veered sideways. He stepped on the brake and looked at the house still ten yards up and Willow’s short rubber boots leaving her legs bare to her knees. The car slid backwards a few inches and caught. “If I carry you, I’m going to lose the car.”
“I can walk.”
“No, I got it.” He put the car in reverse and turning around threw one arm across the seat top. “I’ll park at the bottom and carry you up.”
“Papa. I can do it.” She grabbed her bag and opened the door. The dread in her stomach rolled, but she’d soon be with Mémé and could talk over her feelings. The cold wind lunged at her bare legs, stinging the flesh. For weeks, winter had felt like a cat clawing at her calves and knees, and now it tried to pull open her coat and get her pictures. Hurrying, slipping, she heard Papa’s car idling behind her. She thought to wave him off, but she knew he wouldn’t leave until she reached the porch. She trudged up, holding her bag with one hand, the other still pressed against her coat.
The third-floor attic door was closed, and the light behind it off. Across the house, the turret was also dark. The upset in her stomach increased. At the porch, she turned and waved to Julian and watched the car’s wobbly slide down.
“He ought to stay.” Jonah stepped from the shadows near the door and crossed to the top of the stairs. He wore a light jacket and his ears and hands were bare.
She started up. “What are you doing here?”
He held a broom, but the majority of the snow fell on the porch roof. Of the snow that had blown in, she saw no signs of sweeping. He’d been waiting for her, something he didn’t usually do. Foreboding washed over her again. When she reached the top stair, he made an almost imperceptible motion, angling his elbow an inch in her direction. If she didn’t take it, they could pretend she hadn’t seen the gesture. Black men, Tory told her, couldn’t touch little white girls. There’d been the hot afternoon when Mable made a pitcher of lemonade for Jonah, and Willow asked to be the one to take it to him. She kicked at his door, her hands full, and his delight on opening it was everything she hoped for. He bent and took the pitcher, wet with condensation, and thanked her, but he didn’t ask her in to share a glass.
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